Being Old

I have a bunch of Facebook friends who are kids with whom I went to high school. We’re all 71 (some of us 72) this year. Some of them are troubled by the “invisibility” of old age. Personally I hate the “OK Boomer” thing, but I also think anyone who comes out with that is probably an asshole and I don’t want to know them anyway. As for invisibility? When I had to walk with a cane (in my fifties) I was REALLY invisible. For true invisibility, try being crippled.

I told one of the young (40 year old) people in my life that every old person is incognito. Whoever we are, we are dressed in the anonymous apparel of age, and all old people look the same.

The challenge of being incognito is that our “self” has to cruise around in a body that doesn’t want to do all the things it once did, and we are forced into identifying with something more enduring than physical prowess. That’s a drag and a blessing. My dad was dead at 45, my brother at 56, so I’m all about being 71 years old.

I don’t feel invisible. If someone disrespects me, that’s on them, not me.

For my birthday I got a new, short-sleeved t-shirt. I’m happy about that because I won’t have to wear my Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” t-shirt to get my annual old person’s flu shot this coming October. It’s always a little weird for people there at the public health event when I show up in Sex Pistols t-shirt with the cover art from “Pretty Vacant.”

The way I see this is that I’m just fucking lucky to be alive, to be (mostly) healthy, to be ambulatory, to live where I do where the compromise between my trashed knees and my adventurous spirit is easy to work out. I get to see Northern Harriers hunt and elk move slowly across my “empty” world. I get to talk to people who share my interests — true, there aren’t a lot of them, but there never have been. I have dogs who think our life together is as good as it gets, I’ve started two new careers in the past few years. That cliche that you’re “as old as you feel” is not true, but this is true:

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die. 
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. 

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennisball “Ulysses”

SO, when a kid in a car passes me at the Refuge, looks out of the backseat window at me and Bear, and says, “You and your dog match!” I’m honored.

21 thoughts on “Being Old

  1. My golly — you and your dog really DO match! And neither of you looks particularly old, nor particularly invisible!

  2. Being old isn’t my cup of tea, either, although I sometimes feel 10 years older than I did before the pandemic! May I bring my white hair and visit you sometime?!

      • I usually sleep elsewhere (like in a motel) when I visit people I’ve never met — don’t worry about the dogs! I’m not much of a dog person, either, though I think I’d have no problem with Bear and could probably meet Teddy and love him too! I’m not likely to get there for at least another year, though!

        • I think you, Bear and I would have a beautiful time out at the Refuge when the cranes are here. Bear is very calm and gentle, and “reads” people accurately. Teddy is out of his mind when he meets new people. He loves them TOO much, over-compensating and scared, I think. He’s too affectionate. As I’ve gotten to know him I realize whoever had him mistreated him badly and he is always in a frenzy to make it OK. When he KNOWS someone, he calms down. I have yelled at him TWICE in his whole life and both times you would think the sky had fallen. The first time I yelled was when he dived through the door — I yelled not in anger but in fear, but how was he to know? Dog people love him just like he is, but I don’t expect normal people to. He much calmer when Bear is around, but that’s a totally relative thing.

          It would be great to show you my world. 🙂

          • I still have a bit of stamina rebuilding, and perhaps some California travel (to San Diego, to the Wild Animal Park, to Santa Barbara and beyond, to rebuild my confidence. That’s my goal for the coming summer — farther away will need to wait another year Would love to see the Refuge with you and Bear and the cranes! We didn’t have dogs as I grew up, and I think my sister expressed her (and my) feelings perfectly when she said, aged maybe 10) that she didn’t like big black dogs because they made her heart beat so hard that she could feel it!

            • I didn’t get to grow up around dogs though I really wanted to. I guess (as my vet said) I made up for lost time. I’m trying to get the will up to travel, but so far??? I keep thinking I just come home again and home is good. Thanks to the pandemic, I guess.

    • 🤣 That made me think. Though I always go out with my clothes on, I usually go into public with a kind of nakedness — I read stories or poems, show paintings, that stuff. That’s naked.

  3. Your post’s final sentence is perfection.

    My father, as he aged, frequently told me that growing old isn’t for sissies. (I think the original quote is attributed to Bette Davis.) I liked his point: it takes a strong will and much determination to navigate the challenges of aging – including being invisible at times – while still living your best life. Dogs, of course, make all that so much easier and better.

    • After all those years of student evaluations and yearly reviews from bosses I really don’t care much about how others see me. Some are going to like what they see, others are not, some aren’t going to see me at all. 🙂

  4. I would love to meet you and Bear & Teddy… Sparky loves Aussies (and almost all other dogs). We are just 6 yrs behind you and I have never felt invisible but I hang out with weird artists and writers and animal lovers who tend to really see people!

  5. I’ve discovered the invisibility of being middle aged. Sometimes it’s a benefit. Also, it beats the alternative. 😉

Comments are closed.